Women, Infants, And Children (WIC) Program

Food is the most basic of human needs. We spend money on food almost every day, often several times a day, and when financial stress hits, the food budget is often the first place we feel it. Many people have a hard time admitting that they are struggling to feed their families, but if you're in that situation, you're not alone. In 2015, 42.2 million Americans lived in food-insecure households, including 13.1 million children, and many of those households are not even below the poverty line.[1] Hunger is a daily reality in much of America.

Hunger does not strike equally, and some groups have unique vulnerabilities. Small children and pregnant or breastfeeding mothers are among those hardest hit because they have special nutritional needs that must be met and because it's often difficult for pregnant women and those with young children to earn money. That combination of greater needs and fewer resources can put mothers and their children in real danger, and if you are facing this situation, you should be looking for any help you can get.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, more often and more easily known as WIC, provides free food, nutrition information, and counseling to low-income women who are pregnant and to women who have already given birth and are breastfeeding or not breastfeeding. The program assists low-income women in providing proper nutrition to their infants and children up to five years old. The benefits it offers can help you improve nutrition and health as you carry your baby through each succeeding month of pregnancy and after the delivery. Pregnancy and early childhood are critical times in your child's physical and mental development, so this help is of vital importance.

Eligibility
You can automatically participate in WIC if you already receive benefits under SNAP, Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Even if you do not currently participate in one of these assistance programs you can receive WIC services if your income is at a certain level of eligibility and depending on the number of people in your household. As a general rule, if your monthly income for a household of two people is $2504 and below, and you live in one of the 48 continental United States, Washington D.C., Guam and other US territories, you are eligible for WIC. The rates are different for the states of Alaska and Hawaii. The income eligibility guidelines for WIC are available online, along with an easy self-assessment questionnaire.

You can also directly contact your state's WIC office to confirm your eligibility and to complete the application process. WIC staff people are very helpful and can provide guidance on eligibility and services. A link with contact numbers and addresses for offices in each state across America and US territories is at the end of this article.

When you call your state office, speak with a staff person about your situation. If you are eligible, they will tell you which local WIC clinic is closest to you and give you the contact number and address for that clinic. You can then call the local WIC clinic closest to you to ask any questions you have and to schedule your first appointment.

The staff of your local office will decide whether you meet income eligibility levels, and you will have to be assessed as "at nutritional risk." At your first appointment, a medical staff person will decide if there is a nutritional risk to your baby that you are carrying, your infant or your child. For example, they will look for medical or dietary conditions such as being underweight, anemia, or a nutritionally-poor diet.

The nutritional services provided through this program can improve the health of your unborn child, infant, and young children. Nutritional services include nutritious food packages to supplement your diet. WIC food packages provide necessary nutrients and may include fruit juices, milk, breakfast cereal, cheese, eggs, fruits and vegetables, whole wheat bread, canned fish, legumes (beans) and peanut butter.

Using WIC's Supplemental Food Benefits With The EBT Card
WIC participants may receive an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card with pre-loaded benefits to support purchases of nutritious foods. The EBT card system takes the place of the paper vouchers used under the old "Food Stamps" system. The EBT card makes it possible for a participant to use her government benefits to pay for food products at authorized grocery stores.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What is WIC?

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children is a federal program under the United States Department of Agriculture, administered by state governments. It was established in 1974 to provide for the nutritional health of low-income women, infants, and children and to ensure that "No one in America goes hungry."

What does the program provide?

Services include health screening, providing information and counseling on nutrition, breastfeeding counseling, providing foods that contain important nutrients to supplement your diet, immunization screening, and referral, and other health-related referrals.

How do I know if I am eligible?

You can automatically participate if you already receive Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) formerly known as Food Stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). You can also go through a quick and easy questionnaire at the following government link to find out if you are eligible.

Is there an office near me?

There are offices in all 50 states, 34 Indian Tribal Organizations, the District of Columbia (DC), and the US territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The link below will give you the phone numbers and addresses for WIC offices.

Summary
WIC provides valuable and free nutrition education, counseling and food supplements to parents who fall within income eligibility levels, depending on the number of people in your household, and if you are also determined to be at nutritional risk. The program is a vital service that can improve and ensure the nutritional health of you, your baby, and your children. If you're pregnant or have young children, have a restricted income, or are worried about your ability to get proper nutrition or provide it to your children, WIC is one of the first places you should look for help.

Resource Links:
Eligibility Guidelines
Eligibility Questionnaire
Local Offices

Notes
1. "Poverty and Hunger Fact Sheet" . FeedingAmerica.org